Weekly Torah Commentary – Passover Sabbath – April 14, 2017

Torah reading: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

Haftorah reading:  Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Can these bones live?  (vs. 3)

drybones

That is the question which the Spirit of the Lord asked Ezekiel in his famous vision of the valley of dry bones.

The Spirit of the Lord set Ezekiel down into a valley filled with bones that were ‘very dry’. The prophet experienced this vision after God had directed him to prophesy the rebirth of Israel in chapter 36. God announced, through the prophet, that Israel will be restored to her land in blessing under the leadership of “David, My servant [who] shall be king over them”  clearly a reference to the future Messiah, descendant of David. However, this promise seemed impossible.  At that time, Israel was “dead” as a nation, deprived of her land, her king, and her temple. She had been divided and dispersed for so long that unification and restoration seemed utterly impossible. So God gave Ezekiel the vision of the dry bones as a sign to reinforce the promise.

God directed Ezekiel to speak to the bones. Ezekiel was to tell the bones that God would make breath enter the bones and they would come to life, just as in the creation of man when He breathed life into Adam. Ezekiel obeyed, the bones came together, flesh developed, skin covered the flesh, breath entered the bodies, and they stood up in a vast army.

This vision symbolized the whole house of Israel then in captivity. Like unburied skeletons, the people were in a state of living death, pining away with no end to their judgment in sight. They thought their hope was gone and they were cut off forever. The surviving Israelites felt their national hopes had been dashed and the nation had died in the flames of Babylon’s attack with no hope of resurrection.

The reviving of the dry bones signified God’s plan for Israel’s future national restoration. The vision also, and most importantly, showed that Israel’s new life depended on God’s power and not the cleverness of the people. Putting “breath” by God’s Spirit into the bones showed that God would not only restore them physically but also spiritually.

As with all of scripture, there is always more than the simple meaning. We understand the promise to Israel but we also derive personal encouragement and hope from this passage.

Typically in the scripture, valleys are places of hardship or trial.  The verse from Psalm 23 comes to mind, Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for You are with me.  The implication is that walking through a valley could be a fearful thing but we are assured that the LORD is with us, even then.

When we go through valleys in our life, sometimes dreams die. Sometimes our hope dies, our faith dies. Sometimes promises die. Sometimes circumstances happen tragically, things just go wrong in our life. Sometimes things are out of our control and sometimes they are in our control, but regardless of whether they are in or out of our control, we are assured that whatever has been lost in those valleys and wherever there has been trauma or grief or sorrow and death, it is the LORD and He alone who can breathe on the dry bones and restore life.

Is there a dream, a hope, a goal you’ve had that seems at present utterly impossible? Has an important relationship gone wrong?  Have you suddenly lost a job? Or has someone you love been diagnosed with a life threatening disease?

Any of these could be seen as a ‘valley experience’ in our life. Maybe your dream has been dead so long that it’s like the bones Ezekiel saw: very dry.

This Haftorah gives us resounding hope and divine reassurance of redemptive restoration, no matter what lies dead in your valley.

In tune with Torah this week = The festival of Passover is a wonderful time to re-visit old dreams and desires, to bring them before the LORD in prayer and listen for His word of hope.  For the same God who transported Ezekiel into that valley is the God who hears your hearts’ desires today.

Shabbat shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — Acharei Mot April 11, 2014

Shabbat HaGadol

The Shabbat immediately prior to Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. How it came to be called that is a topic of discussion. One opinion is that it is because of the Haftorah read this week which refers to a day in the future which will be “great” – the day of the re-establishment of God’s Kingdom on this earth, as described in Malachi 3.

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. (Malachi 3:23)

The prophet speaks of the day of redemption in the future. Passover, which represents the day of redemption of antiquity, serves as the model for the future redemption of the children of Israel.

This Shabbat in Egypt was different from all other previous Shabbatot. This time, man joined God in His holy day. Ironically, the mode of observance was not “resting” as we think of it in the context of today’s Shabbat. Historically, the Shabbat before Pesach was the day when the children of Israel were commanded to take to themselves a lamb, a symbolic action that stood in opposition to the lamb-worshiping Egyptians.

The Sages note that by taking the lamb the Jews observed Shabbat in Egypt as never before. This was their first Shabbat as a people, a moment of passage in the national sense: They had reached the age of majority, became adult (“gedolim”), with responsibilities. This was Shabbat “HaGadol”. The most basic teaching of Shabbat is the acknowledgement that God created the world in six days. By taking the lamb the Jews rejected idolatry and accepted God. This was not merely an action which took place on the tenth of Nissan. This was a watershed of Jewish history. Now the Jews joined God in a Shabbat.

The Talmud teaches that one who desecrates Shabbat is guilty of idolatry, for he has rejected the works of God. Now we see that those who rejected idolatry were viewed as “Shabbat observers.” Moreover, in taking the lamb, they kept their only Shabbat commandment. This “perfect track record” made it a truly great Shabbat.13

Our sages teach us that if all of Israel fully observe just two Shabbatot the Messiah would appear.

Interestingly, according to the mainstream Jewish approach the world was created in Nissan, which means that the Shabbat which takes place around the 10th of the month was the second Shabbat in the history of the world. Had those two Shabbatot been kept properly the world would have been redeemed back then.

In particular, the two Shabbatot which must be observed are Shabbat Hagadol and Shabbt Shuva. Each of these Shabbatot have a special power to them: One falls between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, it is a Shabbat which teaches man how to return to God. The other Shabbat is the first Shabbat observed in Egypt, the one we are about to celebrate. It is a Shabbat which contains within it the secret of redemption.

If man could master these two Shabbatot, the Messiah would quickly arrive. Would that it would be this year.

Torah reading this week is Acharie Mot found in Leviticus 16-18

Acharei Mot includes the Yom Kippur service where the High Priest cast lots to designate two goats — one to be sacrificed, the other to be driven to a place called Azazel after the High Priest confessed the sins of the people upon its head.

The goat sent to Azazel symbolically carried away the sins of the Jewish people. This, I surmise, is the source of the concept of using a scapegoat. One thing you can truly give credit to the Jewish people — when we use a scapegoat, at least we use a real goat!

Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between man and the Almighty. However, Yom Kippur only atones for transgressions between man and man if a person first attains the forgiveness of those whom he has offended or harmed.

While our main reason not to hurt others should be out of compassion and caring, we learn from here that we should be careful not to hurt others out of our own self interests — the embarrassment of having to ask others for forgiveness and the possibility that they won’t or can’t forgive you.

In Tune with Torah this week = as we prepare to celebrate the Festival of our Redemption, past and future, let us examine our relationships and make sure that we have no ‘unfinished business’ in that area. If we need to ask forgiveness for some offense, let’s do it from the heart. If we need to forgive someone else, likewise let’s forgive freely as God forgives us.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach!!! (A blessed Passover)